When fairgoers entered the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, they were dazzled by the White City, a sprawling collection of massive exhibit buildings dedicated to manufacturing, transportation, electricity, and other themes that captured the imagination of a country on the move. Boasting a mixture of architectural influences, the gleaming, almost regal structures were assembled around a large reflecting pond festooned with Corinthian and Ionic columns as well as golden and white allegorical statuary.
It was a giddy time in America as the young, growing country was establishing its prominence, and the fair was its coming-out party. The White City, so named for the alabaster substance made of gypsum and other materials that covered the buildings, was a celebration of progress and a brash ode to capitalism. It reinforced the sense of hope and promise — the swagger even — that Americans carried. Visitors were overcome by the scale, spectacle, and opulence of the buildings and grounds as well as the bustle and merriment of its midway and amusements.